Dr. Emmanuel Gbade Ojo is Head, Political Science Department, University of Ilorin, Kwara State and former Chief of Staff to former Oyo state governor Abiola Ajimobi. In this interview with ROTIMI AGBOLUAJE, he says this is the best time to implement the Steve Oronsaye Committee recommendations on restructuring and rationalisation of Federal Government agencies, parastatals and commissions. He stresses that aside from helping to cut cost of governance, it is a cheap way of pruning deadwoods in anticipation of positive impact on the economy in the near future.
President Muhammadu Buhari has given a nod to the implementation of recommendations of the Steve Oronsaye Committee. What is the purpose of restructuring and rationalisation in public service?
President Goodluck Jonathan set up the Oronsaye Committee specifically on August 18, 2011. It was a seven-member committee to advise government on restructuring and rationalisation of Federal Government agencies, parastatals and commissions.
It is important to state that rationalisation doesn’t mean retrenchment of workers. It doesn’t mean you want to downsize. Most Nigerians were scared when they heard that President Muhammadu Buhari signed the implementation of the committee’s recommendations.
In Nigeria and, indeed, many African countries, the private sector should be expanded if the public sector is shrinking. But if you are retrenching, reducing workers and the public sector too is shrinking, it will lead to social dislocation and a greater problem of unemployment. So, rationalisation does not primarily mean downsizing.
Today, there are well over 200 Federal Government agencies and parastatals. A number of them are performing similar and same functions, and it would be better to collapse those agencies. This is basically about looking at what a worker was doing in his former agency and how does the country fix him in the new agency?
What can lead to downsizing of workers from what I have read in the report is the recommendation that some few agencies be fully commercialised. When you commercialise an agency, you have to lay off workers. The orientation of staff in a traditional agency would not be suitable for an agency that is commercial – money making, making profit, that is the bottom line.
But there is the tendency that the implementation will lead to some job losses. Would this not cause industrial crisis in the country as labour centres may raise eyebrows?
It is not in all cases that restructuring and rationalization lead to job losses and downsizing. I am aware that labour centres may not be comfortable with the implementation of the report. Rationalization may actually bring out the best of the workforce in terms of maximization of labour or what we call job-manning. Whatever happens, the report implementation is the best for the country with almost 300 federal agencies and parastatals performing similar functions and some being centres of job-for-the-boys by politicians.
Where job losses are imperative, the implementation committee may have to ask those that have put in several years to retire voluntarily and be paid off. With the contributory pension scheme of the federal government, that would not be a real burden. The truth is that there is no way you restructure, rationalize or merge parastatals that job losses will not occur. The agencies are unwieldy no doubt.
Again, what I know is that a number of those agencies are short-staffed. As people are retiring, their positions are not immediately filled. So, when you merge agencies that are performing similar functions, you will discover that few of them have vacancies. The boomerang effect is that government may not approve recruitment almost immediately. So, those looking for job will still be out there. Let us look out for those getting closer to retirement, those who have put in 20 years and more; ask them to retire voluntarily rather than retrench them, because they are civil servants working with the expectation of pension and gratuity.
Most of the agencies were created by Acts of Parliament. Will the processes of merging them not be cumbersome?
It can’t be cumbersome. It will take time. Reading the report, a number of those agencies will require taking back to the National Assembly to amend the laws that established them, repeal some laws and consequently come up with a new law that will merge. In the next one year, the implementation may not be completed.
Do you see this administration being able to successfully implement the Oronsaye report?
The process may look a bit cumbersome. That is why the National Assembly has been broken down into committees. So, different committees will be asked to work on the recommendations of the Committee, especially those ones that have been accepted by the government. In the next two years, Buhari will still be President and they are likely to have perfected those things if they are serious about it.
However, I don’t think the implementation should be a problem but the political will. Where there is will, there must be a way. Agreed that the performance of government at all levels is appalling when it comes to the implementation of reports of committees set up by it. In this case, I want to assume that government may want to demonstrate a kind of seriousness. More so, with a number of International Monetary Funds (IMF) conditionalities before they could secure the recent loan, who says the implementation of the report may not be part of the conditionalities?
Will career civil servants and politicians allow the process to see the light of day?
Career civil servants can’t obstruct the implementation if government is committed to it. Politicians may only lobby that the government should not retrench much if the affected comes more from an ethnic group. But if the implementation committee is fair, no doubt, it will sail through.
Don’t you think that huge severance packages may pose a challenge to the report’s implementation?
Aside from political appointees in those agencies that may be merged, the issue of huge severance allowance does not come in. It is cheaper to do away with the deadwoods now and expect positive result in the future. The intended gains of the reform could be both short-term and long-term. As I said earlier, for the civil servants that may be affected, contributory pension scheme may take good care of that.
A lot of outlandish recommendations have been pointed out. What are the wild recommendations you observed in the report?
A flip through the report shows that there are a number of wild recommendations, which may shock Nigerians. Good enough, in the wisdom of those in government they have rejected a number of them. For instance, the committee recommended that Federal Character Commission should be abrogated! In a country with well over 350 ethnic groups and babel of voices – plural and deeply divided – the commission is needed. Though as things stand now, it isn’t really achieving much by supervising recruitment into federal agencies to achieve national integration. This is a country where even top elites are guilty of ethnic jingoism.
Another wild recommendation has to do with full commercialisation of National Business and Technical Examination Board (NABTEB) and National Examinations Council (NECO), among others. The truth is that agencies conducting public examinations should not be commercialised considering current literacy level and pervasive culture of poverty. NABTEB that is meant to handle professional examinations for trained artisans ought not to be commercialised. It is good that the government rejected that recommendation.
Among others, the committee also recommended that Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) should be merged with the Nigeria Police. This is unacceptable. Road Safety Corps will do better as it is rather than when merged with the Police, which had its Motor Traffic Division ineffective, necessitating the establishment of the FRSC ab initio.
Another wild recommendation is in the health sector. We have 19 teaching hospitals. To now say the Board members of such hospitals should be health workers alone, is not a good recommendation. If you have a board, like 19 people in the Board of University College Hospital (UCH), for example, they can’t all be medical doctors. There are people that are hospital administrators. The wife of Barrack Obama, former President of America is a hospital administrator. People from different fields should be on the Board so that the establishment can benefit from their knowledge.
Another thing is the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) being asked to swallow the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Abuja. Fine, they are reseach institutes. But if government believes they have been doing the same thing and therefore want them merged, no problem.
The one that has to do with the media, which government rejected is that Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and Voice of Nigeria (VON) should be merged but government rejected that. Why should government reject that if they want to reduce manpower and bring about efficiency? VON should be an arm of FRCN because VON broadcasts internationally while FRCN broadcasts locally. But if you look at the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), it is the same NTA that broadcasts locally; the same NTA has NTA International as a wing. So, what does it cost government to accept that recommendation?
Another wild recommendation of that committee is the intention to create the Ministry of Special Duties. Whatever functions the ministry will perform should be subsumed under an existing ministry. So, when government is implementing the report of the Committee, government needs to be wary of those ones that could lead to problems. For instance, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Public Complaint Commission (PCC) were suggested to be merged, and government said no. Why do you need to merge ICPC, EFCC and Code of Conduct Bureau? Their functions are similar but quite different.
Government rejected the recommendation that PCC should be scrapped. I am happy with that. The elite and middle-class should know that the lower class is suffering in this country. They are being oppressed. When they are being oppressed, they should be able to run to an agency that can bail them out. That is one area where the Minister of Labour and Employment is doing nothing. I score him and the ministry zero.
Most of the companies we have in this country floated by foreigners are labour exploiters. They will recruit Nigerians to work 12 to 14 hours, from 6am to 6pm and 6pm to 6am. In two to three years, they are retrenched so that they won’t be entitled to anything. Machines injure a number of them and they don’t know where to run to. Government is pretending as if that is not happening. The labour law that should be worked on and enforced is not being done. Nigeria has become a huge labour slave tank where nobody cares about fundamental rights of workers.
So, PCC should be there so that when people are oppressed and marginalized and can’t afford the cost of litigation, which is very high in this country, they can go to the public complaint commission to bail them out. I’m using this opportunity to appeal to members of PCC to go for more publicity so that Nigerians will know that it is really in existence and that they can feel its impacts.
In essence and most importantly, I want to advise government that looking at the composition of members of the Oronsaye Committee that prepared the white paper for the government, there is no scholar. That is a major weakness of that report. If a country is as big as this, with the number of universities and professional institutes and there is no scholar involved, we can’t but point out that weakness. The research inputs of academics, which the report ought to benefit from is being denied. There are professors of Public Administration and professors of Political Science who specialise in administration and management. There are professors of Management and others in this country. If they were to be involved, the story would have been different.
Do you support the suggestions that salaries of political appointees and office holders should be slashed instead of rationalising the civil/public service?
I was a political appointee. When Nigerians are agitating that the salaries of political appointees should be slashed, they may be doing that out of ignorance and lack of information. How much does a commissioner earn? That is what they are supposed to find out. When you are talking about political appointees, which category are they talking about? No minister earns one million naira per month. The Commission that fixes salaries of public office holders knows what it has recommended.
The issue with us is not the salaries of political appointees. The issue is basically corruption. Let us be sincere with ourselves. In fact, when you increase salaries of civil servants and political officeholders, you are fighting and reducing poverty. But when you’re slashing salaries you are exacerbating poverty. The richer people are, the better for our society in Africa because of the extended family system.
In Europe, everything that comes to you belongs to you. In Africa, not everything that comes to you at the end of the day belongs to you. Consciously or unconsciously, you have dependants that you are taking care of.
What government should do is: One, block financial leakages. Two, fight corruption the way it should be fought, not a cosmetic exercise that we call war against corruption in Nigeria. What we are doing in this country is fighting from the top alone. We are not really fighting corruption in the society because, for instance, there is no Nigerian who doesn’t know that police establishment is super-corrupt or that the Customs is super-corrupt.